Beyond the Bison: A New Day?

Julian Dory

Senior Writer

 

For Cam Newton, this could already be make-or-break. The NFL’s 2011 number one overall pick burst onto the scene two seasons ago for the Carolina Panthers, yet failed to show much of the initial flash and fire last season, as both he and the Panthers took a giant step backward.

Perhaps more alarming than the regression in play was the obvious immaturity Newton seemed to show off the field. After the Panthers suffered a loss to the Falcons to fall to 1-3, Newton was both despondent and impolite toward the media after the game. His reaction and comments brought into question his true qualities as a leader. A 7-9 season that included four straight seemingly meaningless wins to close it out certainly hurt Newton’s cause.

Now, after obviously losing the “new kid on the block” limelight to last year’s incredible rookies Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, and Robert Griffin III, Newton enters his third campaign with less spotlight but even higher standards and expectations than ever before.

The positives are simple: Newton is a physical specimen. At 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, anyone that can run a 4.58 40-yard dash has a chance to be special. And Newton’s arm strength? It’s second to none. While he has struggled with his accuracy, he does seem to have all the physical tools to become one of the great quarterbacks in the NFL—but his mental fortitude is absolutely a question mark.

Can Newton bring out the leadership that helped him take college football by storm when he led the undefeated Auburn Tigers to a National Championship in his only season as a starter? Can he positively translate the confidence that led him to proclaim his wish to not just be a star but a “brand” to NFL scouts at a pre-draft visit (a controversial comment that raised question marks to some at the time)?

Time will have to tell, but Newton’s play will be the overriding factor of it all. He must play well in the 2013 season. He has to prove that he is a mature franchise cornerstone by showing mental toughness and the highest standards of leadership in the low times that inevitably arise in almost every NFL season.

In Newton’s defense, the Panthers’ roster has not done him many favors. He sits behind a middle-of-the-pack offensive line, at best, with an over-the-hill running back DeAngelo Williams. Then, except for the old (but still very good) Steve Smith on the flanks, Newton has no one else. His “weapons” certainly are not up to the standards of last year’s star rookies.

The public knows this: he has some leeway. They may not be a playoff team. But the kid simply has to play consistently over a 16-game season, limit turnovers, and make solid play-by-play decisions.

If he does that, there’s no telling how far he can go once he gets a couple solid players around him. But if it is more of the same 2012 Cam Newton in 2013, get ready for the downpour of criticism that will most certainly follow.

It is early, but with Cam’s history of getting flustered by the media, 2013 could be the most important season of his life.

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